3 Effective Ways to Bring Hope to "Depression Rooms"

Many times, a cluttered room or house is not a sign of laziness or messiness.  Sometimes it's a sign that:

  • you're too busy
  • you have too much stuff
  • you struggle with executive function
  • you're depressed

The good news is that minimalist methods can help you cope.   

feeling low

Different situations call for different strategies.

If you're using your home as a place to sleep and shower in preparation for your go-go-go lifestyle, it's no wonder that clutter (and dirt) accumulates.  Try reducing your to-do list by just one item this week, and an additional item next week.  Simplify meals to save time and reduce decision fatigue.  Set a goal to spend at least three evenings at home each week.  See if a bit of white space on your calendar lets you clear some space in your home.

People with ADHD may struggle with executive function – the skills that allow us to get things done.  They may have trouble planning, focusing, paying attention, or finishing tasks.  I can see how that would lead to clutter.  A person in that situation will benefit from using checklists and doing small tasks that can be finished quickly.  Routine and practice will help, as will owning fewer things (which reduces household tasks for anyone).  Try my 10-Minute Declutter Method.  The three techniques I'm going to describe will help too. 

But the term depression rooms refers specifically to people who accumulate clutter and disorder because they struggle with depression.  Clutter and depression seem intimately connected.

Depression can lead to messy spaces.

People who are suffering from depression may find it hard to concentrate, take care of themselves, and get things done.  Cleaning up the kitchen, keeping up with laundry, and putting things away can become very difficult if you're depressed.

"Living with depression can make it feel really, really challenging to do a lot of things, and keeping a living space clean may be just one of those" says Gaby Teresa, a therapist in Los Angeles.  Tidying up may seem impossible if you're dealing with common symptoms of depression, which include fatigue, a lack of interest or motivation, and feelings of overwhelm and hopelessness.

If you also feel guilt or shame about your living spaces, your negative self-talk might keep you from taking action.  Feelings like "I'm such a slob," "I'll never be able to clean up," and "Why bother, it'll just get dirty again" can put you in a downward spiral that's hard to break.

Messy spaces can lead to depression.

Several studies indicate that being surrounded by chaos can affect mental health.

  • A 2011 study at Princeton University found that cluttered spaces inhibit your ability to focus and interfere with your brain's ability to process information.  The "visual noise" also makes it hard to relax.
  • A 2016 study found a clear link between an overabundance of possessions and well-being.  While personal possessions can increase your feelings of being "at home" in a given space, when the volume of possessions becomes excessive, "cluttered spaces can interfere with people's ability to execute normal life activities... and create disconnectedness..." leading to stress, shame, and depression.
  • A 2020 study showed a correlation between a chaotic home and lower cognitive development, poorer social functioning, greater behavioral problems, and higher stress in children.
  • And finally, the famous UCLA study found a direct relationship between cluttered homes and the stress hormone cortisol, which is linked with anxiety and depression.

3 techniques to deal with depression rooms

Decluttering won't cure ADHD or depression.  But it will give you a mood boost and make your home work better for you.  When things are reasonably tidy and the chaos is diminished, you feel more comfortable and supported by your living space.

Try one of these strategies when you feel overwhelmed by too many things to clean up.

simple, peaceful bedroom
1.  Focus on just five things, one at a time.

  • trash
  • dishes
  • laundry
  • things with a place to belong
  • things without a place to belong

Tackle each category in turn as you clean a room.  Discard the trash, then collect dishes and put them in the dishwasher or a sink full of soapy water.  Put dirty clothes in a hamper and/or start a load of wash.  Put away things that belong somewhere else, and consider items that have no place to belong.  Why is that?  They could be things you don't need, impulse buys, freebies, or something else you can declutter.

2.  Create systems so your home works for you.

  • Pay attention to hot spots – places where clutter accumulates over and over – and create better systems for dealing with them.  You might need hooks for jackets and purses in the entryway, a basket on your desk for bills, or a digital photo frame* for the latest snapshots (instead of the refrigerator door).
  • Pay attention to items you keep needing to clean up.  Either you have too many or what you have needs better places to belong.  Find homes for these items that make sense.

* This blog is reader-supported.  If you buy through my links, I may earn a small commission.

3.  Stop the problem before it starts.

Once your home is mostly clean and at least partially decluttered, do small tasks before they become big ones.  It's so much easier to do the dishes for one meal than to let them pile up for days at a time.

  • Picking up the mail?  Sort it over the recycling bin as soon as you bring it in.  Recycle junk, put "action items" in a basket on your desk, hang a birthday card on a bulletin board or set it on the mantel (recycle in a week or so).
  • Done with dinner?  Put dishes in the dishwasher; wash pots, pans, and knives; wipe counters and the table.  Take ten minutes to "reset" your kitchen so it's ready to use in the morning.
  • Finishing a snack?  Get rid of the trash and put the plate or bowl in the dishwasher.
  • Getting undressed?  Hang up clothes that are still clean and put dirty items in a hamper.
  • Going to bed?  Put remotes in a specific drawer or in a tray on the coffee table.  Put hobby supplies in a bin that makes storage, retrieval, and cleanup simple.  Take five minutes to reset your living space.

Related article: Clean As You Go

You can add positive vibes.

calm and comfortable living area
If you're feeling lethargic and overwhelmed, tell yourself you only have to work for five to ten minutes.  Set a timer, and bend and stretch as you pick things up and put them where they belong.  Challenge yourself to do as much as you possibly can in no more than ten minutes.  Try to get your heart rate up, even just a little, to help yourself feel more energized.  Don't forget to breathe deeply – oxygen will wake up your brain.

If you do this every evening before bed, you'll be greeted with more peace and calm in the morning, which gets your day off to a more hopeful, orderly start.

As you gain success at meeting these challenges each day, your home will gradually become less messy, and you'll feel more competent and in control.  The accumulation of these small wins will do a lot to improve your overall outlook.

The habits won't cure depression or ADHD, but they'll help you cope, and that has to be win.

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